Address of the President of the Republic at the Education Summit at the UN PA High Level Week
Mr Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ongoing pandemic is like a magic mirror, relentlessly exposing to us where we have succeeded or failed in making our societies resilient. No-one was really ready for the disruptions caused by the virus but we have seen how certain policies have made it easier to adjust and recover. We are here today to bring education globally on the track that will ensure its quality and resilience to any future disruption.
I believe that Estonia has some good lessons to share. We have been implementing some of the principles from the agenda of today’s meeting and have experienced that they really increase our resilience and help to achieve the ambitious aims that we have set for our education. As a result, our teachers and students emerged from the pandemic lockdowns bruised but not broken.
I will highlight two key elements. First is digital transformation. Estonia started the digital transformation of our society 25 years ago and put education at its core. Our schools and students had access the technology that enable online learning. But more importantly, our teachers and students knew what to do with the technology. From day one, they adapted quickly and experimented to find the best ways of transferring all learning online. In the process, we have discovered new ways to further improve the education.
All this was enabled by the second key element – teacher autonomy and learner-centred approach. When teachers are highly trained and free to select teaching methodologies, they are able to support each student’s development in the best possible way. When learners are empowered to participate actively in the learning process, they have the skills and motivation to learn in all circumstances, all life long.
We have been committed to these principles and witnessed their transformative power. Having such long-term vision has made it easier to build short-term solution, for example learning camps for students to fill the gaps created by the unstable online learning environment. Simultaneously, we are committed to integrating thousands of Ukrainian students to our education system and providing them equal access to quality education.
Looking forward, we see two major issues that threaten the new level of ambition for education and where Estonia promises to take decisive action. First, our community of teachers is aging and we have not been able to attract enough young people to this profession. We must improve, not only by using financial means but also by improving their work environment and societal appreciation towards the profession.
Second, we saw mental health problems among young people skyrocketing. Lack of social contact and the feelings of uncertainty amplified the anxieties that people have at this vulnerable age. These issues will not go away once young people return to the classrooms. We need to make help available and accessible to all, otherwise we will lose too many talented young people.
Dear colleagues! Let us use this opportunity to build long-term resilience into our education systems. The success of educational transformation will determine our success in tackling many current and future crisis situations, foremost the climate and biodiversity crisis. Thank you!